Arranged chronologically, the selection of works traces Signac's development from an art based on observation and direct study of nature, through the rigor and optical precision of Neo-Impressionism to a more subjective art based on his own concepts of pictorial and social harmony. Essentially self-taught, Signac's first works, plein-air studies painted in the early 1880s in Paris and its neighboring suburbs, reveal the lessons he absorbed from Monet, Guillaumin, Caillebotte, and other Impressionists whose examples were his starting point.
By the end of the decade, Seurat's art was the crucial catalyst for the evolution of Signac's painting, providing a model for his technique, his manner of working and even, on occasion, the design of his compositions. Notwithstanding Signac's romantic bent, his more tactile brushstrokes and his stronger color contrasts, it was not until the 1890s—after the death of Seurat—that his work fully came into its own. Signac developed a bolder and looser technique, relying increasingly on the dramatic and architectonic play of color. His discovery of "the joy of watercolor" in 1892—a medium in which, after Cézanne, he was to become the undisputed master in the twentieth century—offered a vehicle for a freer and livelier means of expression, one well suited to his restless, peripatetic lifestyle. In the best of his late works Signac combined the sensual legacy of his first pictures with the cool rationality of Neo-Impressionism to create images of extraordinary chromatic richness and feeling.
An avid yachtsman who settled in Saint-Tropez in 1892, Signac is celebrated for his glorious views of port towns along the French coast and his resplendent seascapes. Prominently featured in the exhibition, these sea and harbor scenes in oil and watercolor are joined by lesser known works, among them his early views of the industrialized suburbs of Paris, the vibrant watercolor still lifes of his maturity, and striking ink drawings he made at the end of his career. Signac's extraordinary Portrait of Félix Fénéon, Opus 217, (1890–91, Museum of Modern Art, New York) and his other ambitious figure compositions, The Dining Room (1886–87, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo), Sunday (1888–90, private collection), and Women at the Well, Opus 238 (1892, Musée d'Orsay, Paris) complete the survey.